When The World Encourages You To Gain Weight


My family wanted me to see “Fiddler on the Roof: because it celebrated the “shtetl” — the little Russian village like the one where my “Bobie,” my grandmother of blessed memory, lived before she emigrated to the United States. I did not see it until it reached our local movie theater.

There was one line in that musical that burned upon my personal soul more than any other.  It is from perhaps the most famous song from that production, “If I were a Rich Man.”  Tevye, the poor little old milkman is daydreaming about what his life would be like if he were a wealthy man.

“I see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man’s wife with a proper double-chin.”

He goes on to say how she would be yelling at servants. When I heard this line I realized that, at least as far as my immediate lineage went, fat was female power.

I learned this in a most personal first-person manner. You probably figured out I learn an awful lot of things that way.

When I was heavier, I actually had more and easier authority with my patients — clearly with male patients — than I do now. Transference is a psychological concept that goes back to Freud, the father of psychiatry. Every time you enter into a relationship with one other person — a relationship of any kind — you bring with you all the history and all the feelings of any similar relationships you have ever had. This happens automatically, without you thinking about it.

When I was a heavy psychiatric resident, I wore a skirt-suit whenever I was seeing patients.  (I had actually looked up the literature and discovered women wearing skirts were more likely to be listened to than women wearing trousers.  Rest assured that I have checked the literature plenty since, and this is no longer the case.) One of the stalwart farm wives of Kansas who I was treating for depression actually told me that I looked exactly like her mother had when she dressed up to take her children to church on Sunday! It was no surprise she followed my orders.  Most people (mostly) love their mothers, so I usually did fairly well. They call it “maternal transference” and it served me well for the years I was overweight.

Now my practice is a bit more difficult, especially with men.  If I remind them of anyone, it is more likely to have been a girlfriend or wife (and occasionally a sister) who pushed them around. Sometimes they come onto me. The wedding rings I wear on both hands (my mother’s and my own) are little help, as is the fact I tell them my husband is coming to pick me up after work. The best I can hope for is analyzing their feelings to figure out what attracts them to me, and work on how they can locate a relationship to satisfy those needs. I never had to play this game until I dumped the weight.

Weight can be a great protector; It can shield a woman from the dangers of sexual engagement. It is no longer fashionable to think as I did in high school, college, even at least the first part of medical school, I seriously believed, as did my woman professors and perhaps the most high-achieving of my female colleagues, that a woman could not have a career of serious achievement and a “vie de femme,” a “life of woman,” or become “a mother of a family” at the same time. Being significantly overweight saved me from all these worrisome time and emotion drainers.

I have seen all too many abused and (hitherto) untreated women become obese as a preventative from entanglements with men, whom they deplored, and consequently, avoided.

Tale a moment to ask yourself how being overweight has changed your life, and what dangers or risks it has protected you from.

And don’t forget, as I have reminded you a few times, to look up the medications you take online.  Every brand name has its own website; drugs.com may be the easiest.  If there is any doubt, let’s look at it and point your doctor to alternatives.

The End


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